Q: On the Season 39 finale of "Survivor," they seemed to be showing clips from the upcoming 40th season. How is that possible?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

It's a sort of open secret with reality shows like "Survivor" that the seasons are -- and indeed have to be -- taped ahead of time. That's one of the things that make the live reunion episodes so special.

People can argue about just how real these reality shows are, but there's no denying that the footage they record needs to be edited. That alone introduces a time lag. Add that to the fact that the show airs weekly but the contestants don't get to rest during the intervening six days, and you start to realize how far we're getting from real time.

Seasons are typically recorded months in advance. The episode you refer to in your question, which aired on Dec. 18, was the final episode of a season that was recorded the previous March.

But the finales are usually followed by reunion specials, also hosted by Jeff Probst, of course, and those are actually not recorded in advance. The episode you watched was literally recorded that day (they're often live, but this one was pre-recorded). That's what makes it a "reunion" -- the season's contestants actually hadn't been together in the jungle for months.

Being recorded that day meant the reunion episode was able to show real footage of the upcoming season, which debuted just a few weeks later. That's because, like all other seasons, Season 40 was recorded months ahead of its premiere.

Of course, no one knows all this better than the contestants of Season 40, who are all past winners of the show, including "Boston Rob" Mariano and Sandra Diaz-Twine, who also appeared on Season 39 as mentors.


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